Revamped LA police tactics to be tested at immigrant rally

LOS ANGELES " When May Day protesters take to the streets downtown to call for immigration reform, police will be using new tactics and technology in hopes of overcoming the memory of last year's event.

LAPD officers pummeled demonstrators and reporters with batons and opened fire with rubber bullets last May Day, rekindling accusations of excessive force that have dogged the LAPD for decades.

Police brass have spent the past year trying to undo the damage done during those few minutes at MacArthur Park.

Chief William Bratton promised things would be different Thursday and made a point of meeting with organizers beforehand.

Bethany Leal, director of the Multi Ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network, said the chief had come to several meetings to talk logistics and ease concerns.

"It was traumatic for the community," Leal said.

Organizers are estimating 100,000 people will attend three separate rallies that will converge downtown and march toward City Hall to protest ongoing immigration raids and demand better rights.

Every LAPD officer " even those working desk jobs " has undergone training in the past year to relearn the basics of crowd control. For many officers, it was their first such training in years.

Deputy Chief Michael Hillmann spent much of the past year looking at what went wrong last year for a high-profile report, and recommended big changes in the way the LAPD deals with crowds.

"There were significant points of failure," said Hillmann. "It wasn't one singular item, it was a whole series of things."

Hillmann found that officers at last year's event let violent protesters remain in the crowd before declaring the entire demonstration unlawful and clearing the area.

Subsequent reviews found a command meltdown, with conflicting orders being given to officers.

LAPD officers have since been trained on forming skirmish lines, using batons in a crowd, and using extraction teams to identify and arrest violent demonstrators.

Police this year intend to corral problem protesters but let the demonstration continue unless mass arrests are needed.

Hillman's report also partially blamed last year's problems on the failure of officers to give effective orders in English or Spanish.

The LAPD has a new all-wheel-drive buggy that can flash commands in Spanish and English as it moves through crowds, and a handheld device called the "Phraselator" which can sound recorded warnings in English, Spanish, Korean and Mandarin.

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